Saturday 7 December 2019

When we see their faces, Gaza's dead are harder to ignore

A Palestinian medic gestures at Al-Aqsa hospital, which witnesses said was damaged in an Israeli shelling on Monday, in Deir El-Balah in the central Gaza Strip. Reuters
A Palestinian medic gestures at Al-Aqsa hospital, which witnesses said was damaged in an Israeli shelling on Monday, in Deir El-Balah in the central Gaza Strip. Reuters
Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, July 22, 2014, as Israeli airstrikes pummeled a wide range of locations along the coastal area and diplomatic efforts intensified to end the two-week war. AP
Israeli soldiers ride atop an armoured personnel carrier (APC) outside the northern Gaza Strip. Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, saying no ceasefire was near as top US and U.N. diplomats pursued talks on halting fighting that has claimed more than 500 lives. Reuters
An Israeli soldier splashes water on his face as he stands atop a tank outside the northern Gaza Strip. Reuters
Israeli soldiers fire a mortar towards the Gaza Strip. Reuters
A Palestinian gunman fires in the air during the funeral of Mahmoud al-Shawamrah in the West Bank town of Al-Ram near Jerusalem. Reuters
Palestinian protesters run from tear gas thrown by Israeli soldiers during a demonstration against the Israeli military action in Gaza, near the West Bank city of Nablus. AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) gestures as he speaks during a joint news conference with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv. Reuters
Bansayan, the brother of Israeli soldier Bayhesain Kshaun, 39, who was killed on July 21, mourns during his brother's funeral in the southern town of Netivot. Reuters
Palestinians inspect Al Farouk mosque destroyed by an overnight Israeli strike, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. AP
Smoke from an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City. AP
Palestinians walk past the ruins of a mosque, which police said was hit in an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City. Reuters
An Israeli soldier rests at a field just outside Gaza. Reuters
Gas deployed by the Israeli army gushes out of a hole in a tunnel, which was used by Hamas militants in an attack on July 21, during an operation to search for tunnels dug by the Palestinian militants, just outside the Gaza Strip. Reuters
Israeli soldiers carry missiles to armoured personnel carriers (APCs) as they prepare to send more ammunition to their comrades operating in the Gaza Strip, just outside Gaza. Reuters
An Israeli Apache helicopter fires a missile towards the Gaza Strip. Reuters
Smoke is seen after an Israeli strike over the Gaza Strip. Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, saying no ceasefire was near as top US and United Nations diplomats pursued talks on halting the fighting that has claimed more than 600 lives. Reuters

The young man in the green t-shirt was gingerly picking his way through the rubble caused by the latest missile strike, searching for survivors, when the first bullet hit him.

"Can you move?" asked a panicked voice, narrating the footage, as the injured man lay sprawled on the ground, shot in the hand. Crying out in pain, he tried to lift himself up. The air crackled with the sound of more shots and he was struck again. His right arm reached out towards the people filming him, imploring them for help, but they could not risk emerging from their hiding place to drag him to safety.

Then, he was shot again. His leg jerked and his head flopped to the side. He stopped moving.

Released on Monday by a pro-Palestinian activist group, International Solidarity Movement (ISM), the three-minute clip purports to show a war crime.

According to ISM, an Israeli sniper shot and killed the unarmed civilian as he searched for survivors amid the ruins of the east Gaza neighbourhood of Shujaiya, which was razed to the ground during 12-hours of incessant Israeli shelling on Sunday night. If true, I, and tens of thousands of other people who have watched the viral video online, have witnessed a cold-blooded murder.

It's just one of many horrific videos and images that have emerged from Gaza, where people remain trapped, but social media allows the world to glimpse the horrors unfolding inside. In this war, you don't need to be on the ground to bear witness to the savagery and the suffering. All you need is Twitter.

There you will find gruesome images of dead children, their bodies torn to shreds by shrapnel; of dust-covered corpses peeking out of the ruins of residential buildings, and of blood-soaked hospital gurneys where doctors try to treat the disfigured and the dying.

The current conflict in Gaza is the third time in just six years that the tiny strip of land, measuring 25 miles long and five miles wide, has been ravaged by the full might of the Israeli military but this time something is different.

This time Israel has been unable to manage the news agenda or to excuse the enormous number of civilian deaths by claiming that they were being used as human shields by Hamas. When the lives of four Palestinian boys were snuffed out on a beach by an Israeli shell last week, the social media accounts of international journalists relayed their final moments to the world.

We saw images of them running for their lives after an initial missile strike and then the aftermath of the second shell – tiny bodies face down on the sand, clothes torn off them from the strength of the blast, limbs splayed at unnatural angles.

There are some who say that we don't need to see these graphic images of what Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has grotesquely called, the "telegenically dead Palestinians" because they dehumanise the victims and disrespect the dead. But why should Western nations, whose governments facilitate the Israeli bombardment of Gaza by giving its government billions of dollars in aid and buying its "field-tested" weapons, be spared from witnessing the full extent of its horrors?

The most powerful weapon the Palestinians have is their ability to communicate to the world the carnage that surrounds them.

Before the ubiquity of smart phones, this was not an issue. All I can remember about the coverage of the Iraq war in 2003 is images of missiles lighting up the night sky over Baghdad. Today, maybe, that is different. When we see the faces of the dead, they're harder to ignore.

Perhaps this is the reason that 3,000 people marched in Dublin, and 100,000 in London, at the weekend demanding an end to the conflict. If nothing else, it should give us pause to think about our perverse notions of respect.

Because, if we cared as much about respect for the living as we do about respect for the dead, then the war would already be over.


Colette Browne

Irish Independent

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